A digital marketing expert reviewing paid and organic traffic data.

Do you know where your website traffic is coming from? Studies have shown that more than 90% of all online experiences begin on a search engine like Google. A prospective shopper or consumer searches for the product or service that they desire, and then they begin browsing the relevant websites listed in the SERP (search engine results page). They may just be gathering information or comparing brands. Or, they may make a purchase decision after just a few clicks.

It’s a no brainer that you want your business to rank well among your competitors by showing up on the first page of any relevant SERP, but how do you get there? Should you invest in SEO (search engine optimization) techniques to improve your organic search traffic, or launch a few PPC (pay-per-click) campaigns to launch your site to the top of the page?

In order to determine which one is better for your business, we need to take a look at how each one works and discuss the differences.

What is organic traffic?

Organic search results are links that appear on a SERP without paying for that placement (we’ll cover paid search next). Websites earn organic front page positions through various factors, including:

  • Relevant content/keyword optimization
  • Links and domain authority
  • Engagement 
  • Site speed
  • Mobile responsiveness

SEO, or search engine optimization, is the process of fine-tuning a website’s content and performance to improve its visibility on search engines. Approximately 75% of users don’t look beyond the first page of their search results, which means if you’re not on the front page of a relevant search, you’re missing valuable opportunities to get in front of interested prospects.

When you have a high quality website that is professionally optimized, you will begin to show up on the first page of relevant searches organically, which will help you generate organic traffic to your website. Keep in mind, however, that SEO is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes patience and investment, but when it is done professionally and strategically, it pays off with significant results.

What is paid traffic?

While high ranking organic SERP positions are achieved through search optimization techniques, you can also pay for placements. Paid traffic comes from users who click on ads that you pay for, most commonly through a pay-per-click campaign.

PPC campaigns are strategically designed and developed for your business to appear in search queries that include one or several keywords that you are essentially bidding for. You set your ad spend budget, select your keywords, and create attention-grabbing ads. Then, your ads show up on relevant SERPs, gaining you paid impressions and clicks (paid traffic).

Paid search is a great way to quickly improve your brand awareness and generate more impressions and clicks if you aren’t currently ranking well organically. When you develop your PPC campaign with data-driven research and proven strategy, you’ll reach your target audience and encourage valuable clicks, leads, and conversions.

When utilizing paid ads, it’s best to direct those ads to a designated landing page with an exclusive offer or an incentive with a conversion form to capture your visitor’s information. Since you are paying for that traffic, you want to maximize your chances of converting those visitors—if you incentivize them to at least provide an email or other form of content, you can market to them later.

Which one is better?

Now that we have defined organic traffic and paid traffic, lets compare the two to see which one is better for your business. First, let’s take a quick look at the pros and cons SEO and PPC ads…

Both organic search and paid ads are highly beneficial to any business seeking to generate valuable traffic, but there are quite a few differences between them. Where SEO has some incomparable benefits, PPC ads have some qualities that SEO doesn’t offer, and vice versa. Here are a few factors to consider when determining where your business should invest.

What is your budget?

Search engine optimization is typically more budget-friendly than paid campaigns. With SEO, you can attempt to make some commonly suggested adjustments yourself (like including keywords in your content), or you can hire a professional agency to fully optimize your site. Most agencies either charge a flat rate for a predetermined time frame, or you can place them on a monthly retainer, depending on your budget and your goals.

Paid ads, however, require a monthly ad spend per campaign, plus a monthly agency fee to monitor and control those ads. Depending on the CPC (cost per click) of the keywords you are aiming to rank for and the competition in your industry, your ads may require a substantial ad spend in order to deliver sufficient impressions and clicks.

How long until you see results?

While SEO is more cost effective, it has a slower return on investment. Most businesses have to wait 6-12 months to see considerable changes in their search engine ranking with professional techniques and data-driven strategies, and even longer if they do it themselves. The level of competition, the budget allotted for SEO initiatives, and the business’ industry can affect the length of time it takes to see significant improvements. Paid search is more costly but when done correctly, it results in immediate visibility, and this visibility (targeted impressions) results in clicks, which equals faster valuable traffic.

(Keep in mind that paid ads only last for as long as you pay for them. When your daily CPC budget has been depleted, your ads will no longer populate in searches for that day, and if you stop paying for the campaign, the ads will stop running immediately. SEO is a long term practice that delivers long term results.)

What are the results?

Both organic search and paid search will deliver traffic to your website, as long as the searcher finds your link to be relevant to their search query. If your site is properly optimized, your site will outrank your competitors on relevant SERPs and will continually show up in similar queries. If you utilize data analysis tools like Google Analytics, Search Console, and/or other SEO software, you can track how much of your traffic is coming from search engines.

Paid ads deliver immediate visibility regardless of your competitors—as long as your ad spend/bidding is sufficient. Paid ad platforms like Google Ads allow you to track each ad of your campaign to see how many impressions, clicks, and conversions it generated in any given timeframe. You can also see common search terms and queries used that your ads were displayed for, analyze user behavior, and more to help you fine tune your ads at any time.

Are there any challenges?

While both organic traffic and paid traffic have quantifiable benefits, they both can have some challenges. SEO is a marathon that eventually bears valuable results, but those results can fluctuate overtime if you don’t continue to keep your site up to date and optimized. Algorithms are adjusted and updated often, and with those changes, some SEO practices have to adapt to remain effective. If your competitors are investing significantly in their SEO, they may have an impressive domain authority and may be difficult (but not impossible) to outrank. Paying close attention to algorithm changes and your competitors efforts can help you stay ahead of the game and maintain a satisfying rank.

While you can gain immediate front page placement with paid ads, one challenge you can face is your consumer’s preferences. While many consumers will click on ads as frequently as any other SERP result, some consumers are a bit more selective and will only consider brands with organic placements or brands that have come highly referred from other sources. If this is a common trait amongst members of your audience, you may generate significant impressions but yield little to no clicks or conversions. Studying your target audiences and analyzing their behaviors can ensure you put your ads in front of the users who are most likely to click and convert.

So, which one is better?

Ultimately, your business can greatly benefit from both organic traffic and paid traffic. Investing time and a sufficient budget into professional SEO techniques will help your business improve your online presence, domain authority, and SERP placement over time, which will deliver top quality leads and conversions. While paid ads require a larger financial investment, it has a faster return on investment which can deliver valuable traffic and leads now while you wait for your SEO to pay off.

If you want to succeed online and elevate your business, we suggest investing in both. Paid ads will put your business on the map, increase your brand awareness, and start generating valuable traffic, and optimizing your site will elevate your brand to a position that will benefit your business for years to come.

We can help you gain valuable traffic organically and with paid ads.

If you’re ready to increase your traffic and drive valuable prospects to your website, contact us today. Our digital marketing experts will evaluate your current organic placement and digital marketing initiatives to determine what SEO and paid techniques we can implement to take your business and your online traffic to the next level.